Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Simon Callow’

Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 16th October, 2017

Oscar Wilde 2Today is the 163rd birthday of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and as usual on this anniversary occasion the writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth brought together an extraordinary band of people to celebrate, this time in the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair, which was frequented by Oscar and his wife Constance at least as late as 1893. Gyles is London’s networker sans pareil; the late socialite, writer and editor Fleur Cowles must be spinning in her grave with envy. Half of the British theatrical royalty were there, including Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Simon Callow and Ronnie Hardwood, as well as a whole cricket team of members of the House of Lords, the odd duchess, marchioness and — as Gyles put it cheekily in his witty homily — a bit of rough trade, of which Oscar would have approved. Oscar’s sole grandson, Merlin Holland, loyally put in an appearance. But this evening’s event was special for another reason, this being the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adult men — the “crime” that had sent Oscar to prison. How fitting, therefore, that one of the speeches of the night should have been from the head of the capital’s police, the Commissioner of the Metropolis, Cressida Dick, who was there with her wife. How things have changed.

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England My England, Bulgarian Style

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th June, 2013

England My England 2Tony PalmerThe British author and film-maker Tony Palmer has had a lifelong passion for music, though unusually he straddles both pop and classical and has made a whole series of remarkable films covering both genres. Tonight, in the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Kensington he attended a screening of his 1995 masterwork about Henry Purcell, England My England, which he says he made for a mere £90,000 — amazing when one considers the length of the movie and its brilliance. Several days shooting took place in Bulgaria — hence the link, as well as there having been a Bulgarian associate producer for the film — including shots of medieval streets meant to conjure up the packed dwellings of seventeenth century London during the plague, as well as a set of building facades on fire representing the Great Fire of London. The film has some first rate acting by Simon Callow as Charles II (and the actor-playwright in a parallel contemporary story line) and Michael Ball as Purcell. But the thing that really makes England My England truly unforgettable is the sublime level of the performances of Purcell’s works, which are seen in the context of his life and British history, including both rehearsals and performances as if in the period. The ending aptly incorporates a stunning Dido’s Lament. The script picks up on the poetry of Dryden and other librettists in a skilfully controlled screenplay by the late John Osborne. Osborne’s quirkiness comes through at times, not least in a sudden blast against the Common Market, forerunner of the European Union, which Tony Palmer warmly endorsed, but struck some audience members as misplaced. In the Q&A session after the screening he described the EU as a ‘con’. But his most vitriolic remarks — and he is, as one might say, a plain speaker — were reserved for some members of the audience who had talked inanely almost non-stop during the film, repeatedly glancing at their mobile phones to see the time, before noisily leaving two thirds of the way through, and even more so for what Palmer called the idiotic presenters, all female as it happens, who front Arts programmes on both the BBC and the independent channels these days. I had better not mention the young ladies’ names as they might justifiably consider the criticism libelous. But Tony Palmer is right, of course, about the way that television talks down to viewers as if they are thick and need to have everything explained or made ‘relevant’and he was delighted that he got a handwritten note of solidarity from the acerbic Arts critic Brian Sewell who read some of the director’s opinions in yesterday’s Times.

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Nick Clegg’s Equal Marriage Celebration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th September, 2012

The right-wing media and a few Tory rent-a-gobs such as Peter Bone, MP, have got themselves into quite a lather over the past 24 hours because of Nick Clegg’s alleged description of opponents to Equal Marriage as ‘bigots’. The fact that he actually did not use that term (it was in an unfortunately unverified pre-release email, until spotted and removed) and indeed would never have used that term in this context has not stopped the bile from pouring out from those self-appointed defenders of the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. The hint of scandal — or if not scandal, gaffe — meant there were TV cameras outside 1 Carlton Terrace when guests turned up for a reception last night to celebrate the Equal Civil Marriage Consultation. Inside the building the paparazzi naturally gravitated towards the luvvies, including Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Simon Callow and Derren Brown, as well as to a positive conclave of bishops in purple, some from churches I had never heard of. But the majority of those present were the old troupers of the LGBT rights movement, such as Peter Tatchell, and an astonishing number of LGBT+ Liberal Democrat councillors and MPs. Nick Clegg spoke well, paying fitting tribute to Lynne Featherstone (also present), as the consultation — which will, one hopes, lead to legislation, though one must not prejudice its outcome — was her baby until she was shifted sideways to DFID in the recent government reshuffle. Jo Swinson is taking her place as a Minister of State for Equalities, which is a welcome addition to the LibDem ministerial team.

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Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th February, 2012

The winter chill this evening was positively Dickensian, but there was much warmth, wine and laughter at that Chelsea New Curiosity Shop, the BookHaus, where author Peter Clark launched his latest work Dickens’s London under the benign direction of publisher Barbara Schwepcke. One of her young staff engagingly juggled clementines while reminding us of Dickens’s memoir of the world’s first white-faced clown, Joseph Grimaldi. Clark’s book, a slim volume that comfortably slips into a jacket pocket, takes as its starting point a volume the author found on Dickens Walks in London by a chap in the 1890s, allowing Clark to muse about the places along the walks at the time of Dickens, in the 1890s and now. Dickens was not the most charming of men — he treated his wife pretty abominably — but his power of evocative description was second to none. As a fine journalist and chronicler, he was able to invent unforgetable characters, and attach memorable names to them. I read most of Dickens while I was at school — I wonder how many boys or girls do so today? — though I have never gone back to him. But his bicentenary is bound to create a new burst of appreciation for his novels, as well as a mountain of new biographies (including one by my friend Simon Callow) and studies, of which James Clark’s seems set to be one of the most endearing.


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Simon Callow Laid Bare

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th March, 2010

For a dozen years or more, the Friends of the Heath Library, in Keat’s Grove, Hampstead Heath, have been trying to get actor and biographer Simon Callow along to talk to their members, as part of their regular series of encounters with writers. This evening they finally pulled it off and we were rewarded with a bravura performance from the boy from Streatham who was launched into literature by lending libraries. His theatrical initiation, as the sextuagenarian thespian informed us all, began at the age of five, when he was taken to see Peter Pan at the now defunct Scala Theatre. He was immensely impressed by Captain Hook (though at his tender age not realising that this character was being portrayed by none other than Sir Donald Wolfit).  Simon’s own stage début was in a school production that did not bode well. But his real immersion in the theatre came when he wrote a fan letter to Sir Laurence Olivier, who had taken over at the National Theatre, getting a response by return suggesting that the young Simon come on board the staff, working in the box office. It was while watching actors rehearse that he realised that acting was work, and hard work to boot — and something that he knew he wanted to do. People will be able to learn more when his next book comes out in May: an essentially autobiographical collection of literary journalism, ‘My Life in Pieces’.

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Biographers’ Club Prize

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd September, 2008

Sod’s Law has it that every time I have a nice dinner lined up, the TV rings and asks me to do a live Press Review — but I can’t complain, as they pay, and I know that if I said ‘no’ they would only ask someone else… So, I missed the middle bit of the Biographers’ Club prize-giving dinner at the Savile Club earlier this evening, at which the accolades went to Michael Bundock of the Johnson Society for his work on Samuel Johnson, whose tercentenary falls next year. I don’t think this is the same Michael Bundock who wrote an erudite tome on shipping law, but I can’t be sure. Infuriatingly, I was seated at the same table as him, but alas, by the time I had returned from the TV studio (the Savile had kept a dinner warm for me, bless them, maybe because I used to be a member), he was up and gone. Similarly, I missed hearing the main speaker, my old chum Simon Callow, who has written on fellow thespians Charles Laughton and Orson Welles. However, I did get a chance to have a good reminiscence with him (mainly about Laughton’s next-door-neighbour in Santa Monica, Christopher Isherwood, whose biography I wrote). And as a penance for missing Simon’s speech, I promised that I will go to see him in the pantomime ‘Peter Pan’ in Richmond this Christmas. Sigh.


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